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Language is Arbitrary & Conventional

Okay guys... I will try to answer some questions. Now it's about the features of language: arbitrary. The term arbitrary here refers to the fact that the symbol that people use is made or chosen without any principle, logic or reason. For example, people in Java do not have a principle or logic to call an animal with long tail, two hands, and two legs and like scratching and playing on trees as kethek. There is no logic either for people in Jakarta to call that animal monyet. This is what arbitrary means. So, to answer Daniel's question: English people do not have any reason why they call the animal that produces "meauwww" as cat. Again, this is because language is arbitrary: no logical reason is used when choosing a symbol, and no direct relationship between the symbol and the symbolized. Now that a group of people have chosen a symbol for something, all the members of the group should approve and use the same symbol to refer to the same thing. In the example above, the members of Javanese language society approve the use of symbol kethek to refer to that animal, while the members of Betawinese approve the use of monyet. Again, the symbol should be the result of the convention of all members of the (language) society. That's why language is called conventional. To answer Wisnukurnia: How is language created? When a group of people make a new symbol and the all the members approve, then they will make a new language, or at least they add a new word for their language. Remember, language is a system consisting of many elements that support each other. Well, once the language is used by the people, it will exist. No society exists without language, and no language exists without the society. Hope, it's clear enough now. For further info, please read Abdul Chaer. He has clear explanation about this.

The Arbitrariness of Language

Knowing a language means being able to speak and to be understood by other people who know that language. Language distinguishes us from other animals in what ways. It means knowing a language makes one a human. According to our definition that language is an arbitrary system of vocal symbols by means of which people of e certain community can cooperate an interact. In this case, knowing a language also means knowing what sounds are in that language and what sound are not.

Knowing the sounds and sounds patterns in ones language constitutes just part of our linguistic knowledge. It means that knowing a language is knowing the certain sound or sound sequences signify or represent different concepts or meaning. When we do not know a language, the sounds spoken to us in this foreign tongue mean nothing. This happens because the relationship between speech sounds and the meanings represented is an arbitrary relationship (there is no relationship between the sounds and the meaning or in other words, we know that there is no logical and rational relationship between the two).

For example:

Ball (in English) and bola (Bahasa)

For people who have already seen what a ball looks like, the icon of a ball does not have an arbitrary relation with its meaning ball. On the contrary, for people who have never seen what a ball looks like, the icon of a ball would have an arbitrary relation with its meaning ball. So, the basic principle of the arbitrariness of the sign in the example is there is no specific reason why a particular sign should be attached to a particular concept..

Linguists say that language is arbitrary in the sense that meaning emerges, not from anything logically inherent in words or their arrangement, but from the specific conventions and expectations shared by members of a given speech community, conventions and expectations that can and do change dramatically from time to time and place to place (Streeter, 2007:1).
Actually, every languages are arbitrary but it does not mean that the language is unpredictable, but it means that we cannot predict exactly which specific features that we can find in a language. There is impossible to predict exactly which sounds will occur. Each language has its own system that differentiates the sounds and the meaning.